The Mike Vrabel era is over in Tennessee. Is it about to begin in New England?

What does Vrabel’s surprise firing mean for the Patriots and their hot-seated head coach, Bill Belichick? Would he be a better option than Belichick to lead the team in 2024?

While we await Kraft’s final decision on Belichick’s fate, here are five thoughts on Tuesday’s development:

1. By all accounts, Vrabel is interested in returning to New England, where he won three Super Bowls as a player in the early 2000s. Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz reported as much before Vrabel’s firing, and the 48-year-old coach made his affinity for the franchise clear when speaking at Gillette Stadium after his Patriots Hall of Fame induction in October.

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“I want you not to take this organization for granted,” Vrabel said at halftime of New England’s dramatic Week 7 win over the Buffalo Bills. “I’ve been to a lot of places. This is a special place with great leadership, great fans, great direction, great coaching.

“Enjoy it. It’s not like this everywhere.”

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Vrabel — who also referred to the Patriots as “we” earlier in his speech — watched that game from Kraft’s luxury box. Within weeks, reports began circulating that he was ownership’s ideal choice to succeed Belichick.

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2. Having to trade for Vrabel would have been complicated and potentially unfeasible. But now that he is a coaching free agent, the Patriots can hire him without forking over any compensation — and potentially even at a discount, since he’ll still be cashing checks from the Titans through the 2025 season.

That leaves Kraft with an either-or choice: stick with Belichick, potentially with a new general manager coming aboard to run personnel, or part ways with the greatest coach in NFL history and hire Vrabel.

That’s oversimplifying things, and the Patriots couldn’t just give Vrabel the job without first interviewing other candidates. But those seem like the two most likely paths forward.

Kraft’s level of disappointment over the Patriots’ 4-13 season was described as “extreme” by ESPN’s Mike Reiss. But postseason success also has eluded Vrabel for most of his coaching career. The 2021 NFL Coach of the Year is coming off back-to-back sub-.500 seasons and has not won a playoff game since 2019, when Tennessee knocked off the Patriots in Tom Brady’s final game en route to an AFC Championship Game appearance.

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3. What does this all mean for Jerod Mayo? Kraft said last offseason that he wanted Mayo to one day be the head coach of the Patriots, but recent reports suggested he hoped to make that move in 2025 at the earliest.

Mayo has a lot of support inside the Patriots locker room and believes he’s ready for a head-coaching job. He’s interviewed for several over the last three years. But he can’t match Vrabel in terms of on-the-job experience, having just completed his fifth season as a coach at any level.

The 37-year-old Mayo joined Belichick’s staff in 2019. Vrabel was hired as the Titans’ head coach in 2018 after seven seasons as an assistant with Houston and at Ohio State, including one as the Texans’ defensive coordinator. Mayo jointly runs the Patriots’ defense — the clear strength of their disappointing squads in 2022 and 2023 — alongside play-caller Steve Belichick.

Since conventional wisdom suggests Steve and Brian Belichick likely would leave to join their father’s new staff, the ideal setup for a Vrabel regime might be to keep Mayo on and give him the official DC title. Whether that’s something that would interest Mayo is unclear and could depend on how much interest he generates as a head-coaching candidate in this cycle.

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4. How about offense?

Vrabel is a defensive-minded coach, and his Titans, like the Patriots, struggled to put up points in recent years, ranking 28th in the NFL in scoring in each of the last two seasons. Both teams lacked high-end talent at quarterback and wide receiver, with Tennessee quickly regretting the disastrous A.J. Brown trade in 2022 that ultimately got former GM Jon Robinson fired. Vrabel would need to present a plan for how to fix that unit in New England.

He does have prior connections to two men who could lead it, however. Vrabel worked under Bill O’Brien in Houston, so retaining O’Brien would be one possibility. The other: Arthur Smith, who was canned by the Falcons on Black Monday.

Smith’s offenses in Atlanta were far from formidable, but he had a lot of success as Vrabel’s Titans OC in 2019 and 2020. His Ryan Tannehill-led units ranked 10th and fourth in points scored without an elite quarterback behind center.

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5. The Titans fired Vrabel because his vision did not jibe with that of first-year GM Ran Carthon. Team owner Amy Adams Strunk admitted as much in her statement announcing the move, which included the words “aligned” and “collaborative.”

The Patriots haven’t had to worry about a head coach-GM relationship in decades, since Belichick has worn both of those hats since his hiring in 2000. But it’s an important factor to consider in any decision they make in either role this offseason.

NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo noted on NFL Network that San Francisco 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters’ tenure as a Patriots scout overlapped Vrabel’s playing career in New England. Peters is considered one of this year’s top GM candidates and already received interview requests from multiple teams.

Featured image via George Walker IV/ via USA TODAY Sports Images